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Best of 2014: Music Edition, Part 2

If this list is any indication, in 2014 I was into sweeping electropop ballads. Yeah, that sounds about right. I hope you enjoy my top 5 songs of the year!

5. La Roux, “Let Me Down Gently”

Five years after “Bulletproof,” La Roux is back with a new album. “Let Me Down Gently” demanded my attention from the first time I heard it. The lyrics are fairly repetitive, but when your words are dense with emotion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The subtle changes to each verse build along with the music to a crescendo that’s downright cathartic, not to mention dance-floor-ready.

4. Vance Joy, “Riptide”

I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, and “You’re the magician’s assistant in their dreams” is right up there. Besides being just plain lovely, “Riptide” captures the feeling of loving your perfectly imperfect person. In case you’ve heard this song on the radio one too many times (and because the Vance Joy camp is apparently keeping a tight grip on the audio), this video is an acoustic performance.

3. Lykke Li, “No Rest For The Wicked”

As a musical arrangement, “No Rest For The Wicked” feels nothing short of cinematic. I can just imagine it as the soundtrack to a romantic confrontation worthy of the Brontë sisters. But for all its pomp, the song makes the concept of “the one that got away” resonate with the listener, even if you’re not the heroine of a Victorian novel. (Read my full album review here.)

2. First Aid Kit, “Stay Gold”

This year “Stay Gold” is the only song that I happened upon while listening to The Current. I was already a fan of First Aid Kit’s song “Emmylou,” and “Stay Gold” adds a lush musical background to the group’s glowing harmonies. Its lyrics touch on the inevitability of change, and the song as a whole evokes a golden landscape that’s akin to basking in a sunset.

1. Imogen Heap, “You Know Where To Find Me”

“You Know Where To Find Me” was inspired by the River Thames, but while imagining people’s relationships with the river, Imogen Heap writes a song that can also apply to human relationships. The piano and vocals are just as beautiful as the sentiment. There’s a part near the end that often chokes me up, which should only be taken as a compliment in the context of a gorgeous song. (If you want to know more about the Sparks album, read my review here.)

Tomorrow the top 10 movies begin!

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Imogen Heap Makes Sparks

Sparks Cover

After the release of her last album, Imogen Heap wanted to find a new way to create music. Instead of locking herself in her home studio for months of sleepless nights, she set a schedule for recording a new song every three months. This would result in a twelve-song album over the course of three years. The idea was to give her time to pursue other projects and be open to outside inspiration. Although Sparks took longer than three years to produce, due in part to delays from the record label, Imogen’s ambitious project was ultimately a success. And now we have this astounding album to enjoy.

Imogen Heap albums are always complex. I knew that it would take me more than one listen to really “get it.” Luckily I had a road trip to visit my family planned for the weekend after Sparks was released. After several listens from beginning to end, I feel equipped to make some semi-intelligent comments. Admittedly, I was worried that Imogen’s new collaborative habits would result in a disjointed album. Although her old method of recording was undoubtedly isolating, it produced great work. But it seems that whatever her creative venue, Imogen keeps firm control over her creations. Past documentaries make it clear that she’s a perfectionist, which allows her to make electronic-based music with depth and nuance.

Every song on Sparks has a story, perhaps more than most albums because each song was produced during a very specific period of time. I could write a way-too-long post trying to relay these stories, but many of the projects are detailed on her website. There’s also a documentary about each song, or so we’re told, which will eventually be released online. It might seem odd to feverishly document her creative process, but when a musician creates in such a labor-intensive way, I can understand the urge to share it. The beauty of this album is that you don’t have to know all the back story in order to enjoy it. However, if you’re interested, the stories are available.

Sparks kicks off with an awesome trio of songs. “You Know Where to Find Me” contains all her characteristic verve, toeing the line between loneliness and joy, feeling both comforting and new. “Entanglement” is a sexy love song, not her first foray into the topic, but certainly my favorite. Then in a more conceptual vein, we have “The Listening Chair.” Each minute represents seven years of Imogen’s life with stylistic shifts to match. I thought this might make the song more difficult to enjoy, but it’s actually fascinating to hear each minute evolve, both lyrically and musically. The theory is that she will add another minute every seven years for the rest of her life.

The album’s energy peaks around “Lifeline” and “Minds Without Fear,” appropriately located near the middle. Speaking of verve, these songs are bursting with creative energy that is, in my mind, the definition of Imogen Heap. “Lifeline” is a true collaboration with her fans, who submitted sound samples for use in the song. “Minds Without Fear” is another collaboration, this time with Vishal-Shekhar, a duo that writes music for Indian film. Their otherworldly vocals mesh perfectly with Imogen’s production style.

I’m all about Sparks right now, and the beauty of an Imogen Heap album is that I know I’ll continue to discover new facets as time goes on. She proves that electronic, engineered music can be full of warmth and heart. I hope she never stops making music.

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This Is What Excites Me

In the world of art and pop culture, sometimes when it rains, it pours. That’s exactly how I feel when looking ahead to the next few months. There’s so much being released that I can’t wait to see, hear, and read. And what exactly has me so excited?

New Imogen Heap album on August 18! 

Sparks Cover

Seriously, you guys, this has been five years in the making. Sparks was originally scheduled for release on March 3, but was delayed by the label for unspecified reasons. Now Imogen is releasing it through her own label, much to my relief. This woman has been a favorite of mine for years. After watching the making-of documentary for her last album, I marveled at the way her creativity seems to reach out in every direction. Can’t wait to see what she has in store this time.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood book on September 30!

Scandals Cover

Anne Helen Petersen and her Scandals of Classic Hollywood posts were a huge inspiration for my Craving Classic Hollywood series this winter. While rediscovering her greatness, I came across the news that she was writing a book. Come September, the wait will be over! The author promises all-new scandals, and one can only assume that witty commentary and luscious black-and-white photos are part of the package.

The Gone Girl movie on October 3!

Gone Girl Still

This might be more excitement than I can take in one week. My obsession with all things Gillian Flynn is well-documented, and I think this story will make an amazing film. I have an eternal soft spot for Ben Affleck, and Rosamund Pike is an inspired choice for Amy. I’ve seen her in several roles, but she’s a fairly unknown entity to American audiences, which makes her kind of perfect to play Amy. And could there be a more ideal director for this project than David Fincher? I admired him for The Social Network, but a recent viewing of Zodiac proved that the man is a master of foreboding. Honestly, I haven’t anticipated a film adaptation this much in years.

I could go on, but you get the idea. What’s life without something to look forward to?

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